Searching for the Peach Blossom Spring is a large-scale oil and acrylic painting that depicts a Chinese sampan boat filled with individuals looking for a new home, even when they find themselves adrift and surrounded by the hopes and fears of an uncertain future. This work recalls a renowned Chinese fable written in 421 CE and further explores the universal desire for a utopian haven to call home. While this dream may not always be fulfilled, this work seeks to recognize the difficulties, hopes, and dignity of migrants and displaced individuals.

Searching for the Peach Blossom Spring (2019-2020)
Oil and acrylic on three panels, 96″ x 48″

About the Painting

Tao Yuanming’s fable The Peach Blossom Spring tells a story of a fisherman who accidentally stumbles upon a utopian village hidden behind a forest of peach blossoms. However, he fails to ever locate this village again after leaving and attempting to tell others of the place. This painting strives to further this narrative and realize the sacrifices of those who have left familiarity behind in search of a better place for themselves and for generations to come. Naturally, this endeavour reveals an ongoing struggle in our world as people around the globe search for a better life and a safer home, even when a utopia is perhaps contradictory and nonexistent by definition. 

The realism of the figures and abstraction of the surging surroundings come together as an investigation of a contemporary concern through oil and acrylic painting traditions. In examining how we react to social realism, the power dynamics as well as the historical and political burdens of representative imagery become apparent. Furthermore, peach blossom petals dot the tempestuous waters and serve as an ambiguous yet hopeful questioning of any utopia’s existence. The cormorants also recall the tradition of cormorant fishing as an ode to the fisherman in the original story, and are analogous to the symbolism of the dove as a sign of hope. 

Charcoal and Pencil Studies

About the Artist

Olivia Zeng is a painter and illustrator based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Her practice includes oil, acrylic, and watercolour painting, as well as drawing. Her achievements include first and second place in the Royal Canadian Legion Remembrance Day National Poster Contest and the Governor General Academic Medal. With her Chinese-Canadian identity in mind, she aims to create a lyrical visual dialogue about what it means to embrace and be inspired by cultural heritage when expressing personal and societal concerns.